Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Carol

The title: Christmas Carol
The author: Flora Speer
Publication: Love Spell, 1994
Got it from:  Sony Reader Store, 2013

Argh, I thought as I read this.  And argh again.  Because I am so confused as to what I think of this book.  In some ways I enjoyed it.  In other ways I was extremely frustrated by it.

This book is essentially about a modern-day lady Scrooge.  Carol Simmons lives in 1993 London.  The lady she was employed to be a companion to, Lady Augusta Marlowe, has just died.  Carol is an extremely bitter young woman.  Her dad was a businessman who committed suicide after losing his money in the 1980's financial crash and she was badly used in a previous relationship.  Carol has cut herself off from the world, refusing to help anyone in need or even make her own life pleasant or comfortable in any way.  Just after the funeral and during the Christmas season she is visited by the ghost of Lady Augusta, who was just as cold-hearted as Carol, in order for Carol to see the error of her ways.

In the first half of the book, Carol visits Regency London and inhabits the body of a woman very much like herself, Lady Caroline. She falls in love with Caroline's fiancee, Lord Nicholas, a man who at first seems indifferent but later reveals another side.  In the second half of the book, Carol travels to a dystopian 22nd century London where she meets another version of Lord Nicholas and helps him and and his friends take down a corrupt autocratic regime.

The insanity of old school romance time-travel plots wasn't my problem.  The weirdness of going from Regency London to Terminator 2: Judgement Day didn't bother me.  My problem was that this book seemed to be written by two different people.  I thought Carol's relationships with the various Nicholases she meets and the world-building of the past, present and future were very good.  I enjoyed those aspects.  But oh my goodness, this book needed an editor.  There was so much extraneous detail and repetition that didn't need to be there.  There were so many detailed descriptions of clothing and food that I kept wondering if there was some sort of hidden meaning to it all, only to find out that no, it was just superfluous padding.  And oh my lord some of the dialogue was so, so bad in the, "as you know...let me now tell you in painstaking detail something you would already know if you were a character, but it's actually for the reader," kind of way.  And I'm sorry, the Scrooge story and Carol's subsequent transformation just didn't feel organic.  Outside of Victorian London, the giving selflessly to the poor thing just feels like the author is beating the poor reader over and over with a kindness stick.  As for the ending, the plot packages were wrapped up so tightly that even the jaws of life couldn't pry them open.*

Was it a guilty Christmas pleasure?  The answer is...sort of.  As I say, I did think some of the atmospheric stuff was good, especially Carol's first ghostly appearance in the future and the visits from Lady Augusta.  But the pacing just seemed so strange, and the book felt way too long.  I don't know, I just finished it today so maybe I will need to revise my opinion in the future.  

My Past Self: 3 1/2 stars and one duke
My Present Self: 2 1/2 stars and a can of Cranberry Gingerale
My Future Self: 4 stars and a robot servant

*And that's not a good thing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

(Source: The Daily Mail)

Looking back on 2013, it wasn't a particularly great year for reading. (I know, I know.  I said the same thing last year).  I didn't accomplish nearly as much as I'd hoped.  It was a busy year for a lot of reasons, and reading just fell by the wayside.  I ended up skimming and thus not reviewing quite a few books.  There were also quite a few "meh" books that I just didn't feel like writing about here.  As a result, posting was quite sporadic.  It gave the impression that I wasn't reading much, which wasn't true.  I was reading every day.

Anyway, last year I left a series of "clues" as to what books I'd be reading, and I did get to all but one and a half of them.  See if you can figure out what they are.  Answers posted around New Year's!

1. One First Lady
2. Two sets of magicians
3. Three ladies of Christmas
4. An intrepid woman reporter
5. The real lives of Downton Abbey  (moved to 2014)(?)
6. Pirates!
7. The secret history of a major city
8. A classic children's book I've never read
9. A very "viral" book
10. Lost books  (this one is a work in progress.  I am about halfway done).
11. A dear enemy
12. A prairie tale

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Dearest Enemy

The title: My Dearest Enemy
The author: Connie Brockway
Publication: Dell, 1998
Got it from:  Amazon 2010?

I was holding my breath for this book, waiting to see whether it would be delicious or another "let's throw this at the wall in frustration" title.  See, I adored Bridal Favors but had serious, serious issues with As You Desire.  Thank the sweet lucky stars that this book was more like the former.

The story revolves around Lily Bede, a suffragist who is dead set on being independent and remaining single.  (There is a back story here.  You have to read it to understand her cause, but it makes a lot of sense).  Lily is a cousin of sorts to the Thorne family.  The patriarch of the Thornes, Horatio, is a complete jerkass who wills his estate Mill House to Lily, provided she can turn a profit on it after five years.  If she does not, she loses the house and gets an allowance only if she renounces the suffragist cause.  This immediately creates a problem, because Mill House was also promised to Horatio's nephew Avery.  Horatio, being the nice guy he is, also has it in for Avery because Avery suffers from asthma and he considers him to be weak and unmanly.

Horatio dies.  Lily takes up residence at Mill House and Avery, to bide his time, wanders around the world.  One of Lily's responsibilities is to provide Avery with an allowance, so they begin a rather snarky correspondence.  (A relationship that starts with letters?  Yes please!)  Then, just before the deadline at the end of five years, Avery shows up.

This book was pure perfection. It was laugh-out-loud funny, believable, and heartfelt without feeling too sickeningly sweet.  Every chapter held my attention and felt like an important part of the story.  I loved how Avery, even though he had an awful childhood where he was bullied for having asthma, doesn't necessarily feel bitter or compelled to take out his frustration on others.  He's very kindhearted, especially when it comes to his nephew, who also suffers from asthma.

And oh, the romantic screwball comedy.  Avery and Lily are both intellectuals, and they have at it like pros.  One of my favourite bits is when a fellow explorer of Avery's is explaining a situation they had faced in the jungle:  "...I remember once, in Brazil, when guides had run off with some hostiles and we were left to founder about on our own for, oh Lord, at least a month...'Here now, chaps.' [Avery] said, 'If Miss Bede does not worry about our welfare, why should you?..Why, and I quote Miss Bede, God takes care of fools and children thus, being men, you are doubly safeguarded against misadventure.'"  

No wonder it rates on All About Romance's top 100 romances of all time.  (Below As You Desire.  Sigh.  There is no justice in this world).